Worried relatives of the Solihull six-year-old had reported concerns, so were there failures by authorities?
The horrific case of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes is raising serious questions about how his abuse went undetected for so long, whether authorities failed in their duty to protect him and how lockdown may have prevented them from doing so.
In the space of just 18 months Arthur went from a bright and bubbly boy to a weak and emaciated one terrified for his life. Here is the timeline of events leading up to his death.
February 2019: Arthur’s biological mother, Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow, 29, is arrested for stabbing and killing her partner, Gary Cunningham. She was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Arthur’s father, 29-year-old Thomas Hughes, takes over care for his son, and in August meets Emma Tustin, 32, online.
November 2019: Hughes and his mother, Joanne, met staff at Arthur’s school to discuss their growing concerns about his behaviour.
Teachers reported Arthur was becoming “fixated” with his dad disappearing from his life, or killing him, and had also become obsessed with death, murder and guns.
March 2020: Hughes took Arthur to Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services practitioner, Kerry Forsyth-Benson, who reported the boy saying he was worried about his dad not returning. She said his physical appearance seemed fine and, as his aggression and anxiety had reduced, she concluded there was no mental health issue.
Hughes and Arthur move into Tustin’s home in Solihull when the Covid-19 lockdown was announced.
16 April 2020: Joanne Hughes reported Arthur to social services after taking photographs of bruises on his back, which she discovered when Hughes and Arthur visited. She tried to convince Hughes to leave the boy with her but he refused.
17 April 2020: Social worker Jayne Kavanagh from Solihull council visited Tustin’s home.
She said she was told Arthur and Tustin’s son had been playfighting with boxing gloves resulting in the bruises, and said she could see a single “faint” bruise in the middle of Arthur’s back.
She said when asked how safe and happy they felt on a scale of 0-10, with zero being represented by the floor and the ceiling being the opposite, both boys “very confidently jumped up and pointed at the ceiling saying they felt very happy and very safe”.
She concluded there were “no safeguarding concerns” and no need to refer the case for a full child service assessment.
Hughes was instead offered an early help programme to assist Arthur in dealing with his traumatic past, which he declined.
Giving evidence during the trial, Hughes said Tustin had “coached” the two boys to lie to social services about the fight with boxing gloves, and warned him they would have their children taken from them if he did not go along with it as well.
18 April 2020: Arthur’s uncle, Daniel Hughes, spoke to West Midlands police about the bruises on the boy’s back. He sent the photos to an officer but never heard back.
Police later closed the log believing it required “no further role for force response” as social services were involved.
20 April 2020: Joanne Hughes told Arthur’s school about the referral to social services. Michelle Hull, safeguarding lead at Dickens Heath Community primary school, contacted social services but was told they had “no concerns”.
May 2020: Tustin’s stepfather, John Dutton, said he made an “anonymous referral” to social services because he felt Arthur was “in danger”.
8 June 2020: Arthur’s school reopened but Hughes did not send his son back, initially claiming the boy hadn’t slept well and would return the next day. Over the following days he reported to the school that Arthur was losing weight, wasn’t eating and might faint.
Arthur never went back to school before his death.
15 June: Tustin took Arthur with her to an appointment with her hairdresser, Catherine Milhench, who said Arthur was told to face the door and not move during the six-hour session.
She described his appearance as skeletal and said his legs were shaking “like he couldn’t hold himself up”.
16 June 2020: Video footage from a CCTV camera in the living room, where Arthur slept on the floor, showed him appearing weak as he woke up and struggled to carry his duvet out of the room.
The family returned to Milhench’s house to finish the hair appointment, during which time Hughes and Tustin took turns shouting at him “like a game of tennis”, she told the court. Her partner, Tobias Jarman, “snuck” the boy a glass of water without Tustin and Hughes knowing, and said he looked “petrified”.
Back at home, shortly after 2.30pm Tustin messaged Hughes to say Arthur would not get up off the floor and claimed he had “knocked himself out” by hitting his head on the floor.
Hughes returned home and a 999 call was made at 2.42pm. Bodycam footage from emergency services shows Tustin crying as she claimed Arthur repeatedly headbutted the floor.
“When I tried to get him off the floor, he headbutted me and he’s hit me and kicked me,” she said. “Even so, I’ve done my best with that kid.”
Arthur was taken to the Birmingham Children’s hospital and later that evening Tustin and Hughes were arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm with intent.
17 June 2020: Doctors concluded nothing could be done to save Arthur and his life support machine was switched off at 1am.